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I recently played Assassin’s Creed and Mass Effect for the first time. Both seemed to be very good games in the ten minutes I dedicated to each (reviews indicate that with prolonged exposure my liking of Ass Creed will diminish and my enjoyment of Ass Effect will swell). When I finally cave in and buy a 360 I will likely pick up both.

Still, I am somewhat startled by the way many people view these games. Beyond confirming graphics are largely irrelevant to my enjoyment of a game, I realized that almost every game is clearly evolutionary, even great games. Despite fighting the urge to be reactionary, the fact that these games are praised so heavily forced me to pay special attention to each game mechanic. The result left me with a mix of “ha, told you these aren’t as good as you thought!”, “my god I am so grumpy I’m denying myself the obvious pleasures of these games”, and “at least I can write something boring about all of this.”

Here is a brief rundown –

Assassin’s Creed is Thief plus Price of Persia with a hint of Zelda and lime. People noticing dead bodies and much of the feel comes from Thief, the architecture and excellent climbing stuff comes from Prince of Persia, riding everywhere on a damn horse is reminiscent of many games, specifically from the Zelda series, and diving off structures into lava while an alien bursts from your stomach comes from Alien 3. I haven’t noticed the battle system anywhere else so I am willing to accept they didn’t directly lift it from another game, though there are thousands of titles I haven’t played so who knows.

Mass Effect’s lauded dialog system reminds me of Indigo Prophecy‘s dialog system and of the simple choose-a-word-to-discuss system from the Ultima games. Besides being obviously descended from KOTOR, other specific bits reminded me of classics – the huge amount of info on every character, race, location, etc. is straight out of X-Com and the large number of planets to mine on seems Starflight inspired. While discussing the betrayal of some important alien I had a major Fallout flashback and in a moment of lucidity I realized that despite the 3D models and camera (which I hate, by the way) nothing had really changed in Western RPGs.

Now the caveat is that many Western RPGs, at least the Bioware/Black Isle ones, are amazingly well written. Almost all games, even classics, are compilations of earlier ideas slightly reinvented and one or two, if any, new ideas. What often makes a game great is how it combines specific elements, and like when preparing a meal, it is not necessary to invent new ingredients to end up with something spectacular. I do not want to begrudge either Assassin’s Creed nor Mass Effect and I still look forward to playing both. I simply want to suggest people who are not well versed in games watch their hyperboles.

Our missions are the following – I will stop being reactionary and fight my desire to hate everything popular (highschool is over, afterall) and you will go play more games and by doing so realize nothing is as impressive as it seems. And then kill yourself.

7 Comments

  1. bruce said on May 8, 2008:

    “Am I bitter or have you not played enough games?”

    Yes and yes.

    You’re spot on about innovation sometimes just meaning mixing existing elements in new and interesting ways. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, board game designers don’t have new any spiffy new technology to work with, but they occasionally do something very interesting with the same old bits of cardstock and plastic they’ve always used They didn’t need access to some spiffy new rendering technology or more MegaHertz to give us new and fun ways to play.

  2. chris said on May 8, 2008:

    Many of my favorite games are just mixtures of genres X, Y, and Z. I don’t see this as a problem; a derivative game can be that much better because it can learn from its inspirations’ mistakes. It isn’t always… but there can always be some improvements.

  3. Max said on May 8, 2008:

    I am working on killing myself as we speak. I estimate I shall complete the task in about 50-60 years :)

  4. SAGExSDX said on May 9, 2008:

    *The Assassin’s Creed Defense Force rides in*

    Personally, I found Assassin’s Creed to be an amazing game. I don’t know what made me not feel it was repetitive compared to other people. I actually find GTA4 more repetitive (gasp, oh no he didn’t).

    But anyway apparently Assassin’s Creed was dumbed down for final release. There’s a post on NeoGAF detailing how to play it how to play it how it was supposedly suppose to be played). http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showpost.php?p=8725331&postcount=5050

    I personally haven’t played it this way but just reading it and looking back to my gaming sessions, I can recall all of the indicators and clues.

    Just food for thought.

    *rides off into the sunset*

  5. Shota said on May 9, 2008:

    You know Jay, for someone who loves evolution and hates creationism you really have your values turned around here.

    You are arguing that because something evolved out of something else it’s unoriginal and and not ‘as good’ (your term) which seems silly to me. And your excuse of ‘oh, i’m just being reactionary does little to assuage me. Reactionary? What are you me?

    Secondly, the argument that because something evolved out of something else it’s unoriginal and and not ‘as good’, presupposes that what you want is pure originality as if something could be sprung into existence with no precident whatsoever. Hmmm… what does that remind me of… oh yeh… my first thought…

    For someone who loves evolution and hates creationism you really have your values turned around here.

  6. jay said on May 9, 2008:

    I am the Kent Hovind of game bloggers.

  7. Stefan said on May 9, 2008:

    First – Shota, I think I can say with a fair amount of certainty that the argument for intelligent design in video games is a better one than intelligent design in biology. We’ve got a lot of documented evidence that (at least most) video games were created by people. They even have credits. If I came with a screen that said “Lead designer: Yahweh” built into my back, I’d be far more likely to accept intelligent design of myself as well.

    Secondly – I read this article a bit differently than most of the commenters, I think. My take (and I think I’ve confirmed this with him) is that Jay isn’t claiming that games require innovation to be good. He’s criticizing people for hailing innovation in games which aren’t innovative, and which should be (rightly) praised as near-flawless implementations of existing genres. There’s a lot to be proud of in bringing an idea to maturity, and jay might have a point in claiming that kids are just gushing without understanding where a game is actually making advances.

    That being said, they’re gushing because they’re learning. We all did it too back in the day. I got really excited when I saw Wolf3D because I thought it was new. In reality, first person shooters were almost 20 years old at that point, but the key point is that _I_ hadn’t encountered one before. For example, starflight’s mining system was just a rip-off of Elite, and Thief clearly copied the body-discovery mechanism from Beyond Castle Wolfenstien.

    The reason I know enough history to act all curmudgeonly about those games though is because I went through exactly the same steps that kids are going through today, discovering that video games can offer huge universes of planets to explore, or that stealth can be an important factor in a game – and then learning that the seeds of those ideas were planted much further back than I had originally expected. I’m not sure there’s any way for people to learn other than to be exposed, and I think it’s a good thing that they get excited when they discover these new possibilities.

    So my take on this whole thing…should we tell them that it’s just a refinement of previous concepts? Yes, because that opens up a larger world to them, and allows them to start appreciating the way modern games are refining and mixing existing genres. But I’m not sure that’s ever going to invalidate their excitement over the first time _they_ saw a 3D shooter, a stealth game, or a horse you could ride (which I think zelda 64 may have been the first to implement in 3D as a means of faster conveyance, rather than as a level gimmick).

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